Beating Brownback

On Ezra Klein, Stephen has a long, wonky piece about why Brownback is likely to win the Republican primary. Giuliani and McCain, he says, are mired in personal problems – public divorces or age – and used to be very hostile to the religious right. Romney is a Mormon, which is a serious problem for many Protestant fundamentalists in the US.

SLC suggests this will turn Hagel into a serious candidate, but Hagel’s trademark issue is isolationism, which doesn’t have a big constituency within the Republican Party, while Brownback’s is Dominionism, which does. Because of Bush, Stephen says (and I concur), Evangelists are very keen on a candidate who looks authentic, such as Brownback but not McCain.

The main problem with Brownback, as far as I’m concerned, is that he’s extremely electable. Polls aren’t very useful at this stage, but for what they’re worth, they pit Obama as the most electable Democrat and give him a higher share in the primary. The problem with Obama is that he’s perfect against any of the three currently leading candidates in the Republican primary, but useless against Brownback.

Giuliani, McCain, and Romney will all bleed support from religious voters, who could find solace in Obama’s hyper-religiosity. Giuliani would bleed the fewest because he could use race-baiting the most effectively to keep them in the Republican column, but as the aftermath of the macaca incident shows, racism is not so strong a political force as it used to be. Unlike Edwards, who says all that matters is class, Obama speaks religious voters’ native language. Furthermore, his general demeanor is one that can lock the Northeast and can play in Peoria.

Brownback changes everything. He’ll be able to effectively use cultural issues like abortion to lock the South and Plains states. He can drag Obama into a religious pissmatch Obama has no chance of winning; while Obama preaches faith-based prison rehabilitation programs at a Sojourners conference, Brownback does so from within a prison participating in such a program.

A Brownback candidacy will turn off a lot of people in the Interior West, who are more libertarian than fundamentalist. However, the Democrats have no good candidate who could regain their support; Warner and Feingold and possibly even Vilsack could, but none of them is running. Clinton could win in Arizona and New Mexico on immigration, and Edwards could win in Colorado and Montana on economic populism, but Brownback will be able to more than make up for that by thrusting into the Midwest. Richardson might be able to make significant gains, but his chances of winning the primary are marginally higher than Kucinich’s.

The Democrat who has the highest chance of defeating Brownback, Edwards, will probably not win the primary (and shouldn’t). In an Edwards/Brownback race, Edwards won’t win a single Southern state, but will likely be able to keep Pennsylvania and Michigan, and possibly win Ohio. Edwards’ natural weakness in the Northeast will matter less, since New Jersey won’t vote for Brownback no matter what (though it’s plausible Maryland will).

Further, the Midwest isn’t socially liberal. In a religious pissmatch, Obama will probably keep most blue states in the Midwest by wooing religious voters, and so can Edwards; however, Brownback will probably make gains. In particular, Pennsylvania is politically Midwestern; whereas the rest of the Northeast is to the bottom left or bottom right of the American center, Pennsylvania is to the top left, which is why it elected a pro-life Democrat to replace Santorum.

What this boils down is ultimately the Democrats’ lack of appeal to libertarians. Obama is overtly courting Dominionists and Edwards is covertly (Clinton will court whoever is willing to vote for her), but nobody is courting libertarians. On the contrary, on one of the most important issues to libertarian voters, budget-balancing, the Democrats are wavering even though they could cut the deficit in half by forcing a withdrawal from Iraq and then eliminate it by reducing administrative health spending, say by VAening Medicare.

Ironically, that’s part of Feingold’s appeal. In Wisconsin, he got support from libertarians by promising honest government and budget balancing and creating an outside the Beltway persona, and then living up to his promises and persona. Despite his being even more economically left-wing than Edwards – for a start, his health care ideas make more sense from a realist perspective – he has an almost unparalleled ability to appeal to libertarians. Add his Iraq War vote and his stance on civil liberties to the mix, and you have someone who’s in an excellent position to turn the election from a referendum on Christianity to a referendum on Bush.

Richardson might be able to fulfill the same role if only he could win the primary. He’s a Hispanic Governor, which already makes him strong in the Southwest; although he comes from the bluest and smallest Southwestern state, he could probably win Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada as well. Like Warner, he projects utmost managerial competence, in particular when it comes to diplomacy, making him strong on Iraq. He’s not going to be competitive in any state Bush won in 2004 east of the Mississippi, but there’s enough ground to make up west of it. Most significantly, a Brownback candidacy will cede the Northeast to the Democrats, leaving them room to concentrate on the West.

8 Responses to Beating Brownback

  1. Sam Brownback may be too monolithic to win, IMO. He can certainly lock on the hardcore fundagelical vote. However he’ll get squashed in the Northeast, the West Coast other traditionally progressive areas of the country. He’s an extreme conservative, which really only gives him a guaranteed sale in the South.

    This is why I think the Democrats should focus on expanding their influence in the midwest rather than go on some naive to “win back” the south. Democratic nostalgia for the southern vote is quickly degrading into the political equivalent of OCD.

    As for actual candidates, I’m still kinda hoping Gore will run.

  2. SLC says:

    1. Brownback has about as much chance to carry Maryland as Mr. Levy does. Both US senators and the Governor are liberals. Maryland is one of the bluest of the blue states; the election of Erlich as Governor in 2002 was a fluke due to the unpopularity of the incumbent Democratic governor.

    2. Against Edwards, Brownback would be an underdog in both Florida and Virginia. The percent of the Virginia vote in Northern Virginia (i.e. Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax Co., and Loudon Co. has been rising and is becoming more Democratic (Kaine won the Governorship and Jim Webb won the Senate race by carrying Loudon Co. which used to lean Republican. In addition, Brownbacks’ religious whackjobism would be poison in Northern Virginia.

    3. Brownback might well lose some of the red states in the West which are negative about religious interference in government.

    The bottom line is that Brownback would be the weakest GOP candidate. I stand on my previous claim that the strongest GOP candidate would be Hagel who has the fewest negatives. I agree with Mr. Levy that he is unlikely to get the nomination (fortunately). The strongest Democratic candidate would be either Richardson or Edwards at this point, the former who would run strong in the West and might even win over enough Hispanic votes to carry a state like Texas (admittedly a long shot). The latter might carry Virginia, Florida, and/or West Virginia any of which would give him the edge in the general election.

  3. muppt says:

    Hilary Clinton to Al Gore: don’t steal my spotlight, fatass!

  4. rmb says:

    I’m not sure why you’re writing off Obama in the midwest. Not only is he from Illinois, polls show that of the Democratic candidates, he’s running strongest in the midwest. As far as Vilsack and Warner go, they’re not running because their shtick was managerial competence and moderate political views, and that’s not selling right now, among almost any group; there have been some excelled posts on Tapped about why Vilsack pulled out. Also, overt right-wing-nuttery of Brownback’s variety has a much smaller constituency in this country than you seem to think. Kansas and Nebraska just aren’t culturally like the rest of the midwest. The Republican ticket that scares me the most is McCain-Lieberman. It’s just the sort of dick-headed thing Lieberman would do, and while McCain’s reputation is shot in the blogosphere, that’s not the same thing as it being shot in meatspace.

  5. SLC says:

    Re DiPietro

    Much as I hate to agree with Mr. Dipietro, I also think that Gore might well be the strongest candidate, provided he runs a smarter race then he did in 2000 (and loses about 50 pounds).

    Re rmb

    Vilsack dropped out because he couldn’t raise any money. It is unclear why Warner dropped out; he certainly wouldn’t have had any trouble raising money, given his contacts in the high tech industry. The statement that Warner is too moderate is an example of the kind of thinking which causes Democrats to lose elections by running liberal candidates like Mondale, McGovern, and Dukakis. The fact is that Warner would have had a better then a fighting chance of carrying his home state of Virginia where he was an extremely popular Governor, which, if he carried all the states carried by Gore and Kerry would put him over the top. Mr. Levys’ fantasy of Russell Feingold would be the second coming of the aforementioned McGovern.

  6. rmb says:

    Saying Vilsack dropped because he couldn’t raise money is rather obvious; the more interesting question is why he couldn’t raise money.

  7. SLC says:

    Re rmb

    The problem is that Vilsack is pretty much unknown, compared to the three current front runners, Hilary, Obama, and Edwards. The latter three have pretty much soaked up the available funding (even Richardson who is much better known then Vilsack and has wide contacts from his Washington days is finding it tough going). Warner, from his contacts in the high tech industry is the only other Democrat who could have raised the funds required to compete.

  8. Hello,

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